Covering COVID-19 is a daily Poynter briefing of story ideas about the coronavirus and other timely topics for journalists, written by senior faculty Al Tompkins. Sign up here to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.
A rare virus called monkeypox is popping up in a lot of headlines because a handful of cases have shown up in Europe and the United States. While it is something to be aware of, it is, at the moment, nowhere near as large a concern as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The single case of monkeypox found so far in the U.S. involves a Massachusetts man who recently traveled from Canada. And now, Canada says it is investigating a dozen other possible cases around Montreal.
The Massachusetts Department of Health says, “No monkeypox cases have previously been identified in the United States in 2022; Texas and Maryland each reported a case in 2021 in people with recent travel to Nigeria.”
Monkeypox is a rare virus, more common in parts of Africa, that can pass from animals to people. But in recent weeks, about a dozen cases have been detected in England, Portugal and Spain. UK health officials say they cannot connect the cases there to recent travel from areas that are more commonly connected to the virus. Does this mean the virus is spreading or will spread in and beyond Europe?
Monkeypox usually does not spread from human to human, which is one reason it is so rare. The World Health Organization says, “Contact with live and dead animals through hunting and consumption of wild game or use of animal-derived products are presumed sources of human infection. Milder cases of monkeypox in adults could go undetected, misdiagnosed, or unreported and represent a risk of human-to-human transmission.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says monkeypox got its name because it was first detected in laboratory monkeys in 1958. Researchers say that smallpox vaccinations seem to have kept monkeypox from spreading. The CDC says:
Monkeypox cases in people have occurred outside of Africa linked to international travel or imported animals, including cases in the United States, as well as Israel, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.
The natural reservoir of monkeypox remains unknown. However, African rodents and non-human primates (like monkeys) may harbor the virus and infect people.
The World Health Organization tracks monkeypox cases globally and provides this background:
Since 2017, a monkeypox outbreak has been occurring in Nigeria with 218 cases confirmed to date. In addition to Nigeria, outbreaks have also been reported in nine other countries in central and western Africa since 1970. These include Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Liberia, Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and Sudan. Sporadic small outbreaks continue to occur in some of these countries including Cameroon and the Central African Republic. However, the vast majority of cases continue to be reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with 2780 cases and 72 deaths (CFR 2.6%) reported between 1 January through 31 October 2021.
Some resources for journalists:
- CDC fact sheet on monkeypox.
- Previous outbreaks of monkeypox in the U.S.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, media statement, Imported Monkeypox case Reported in Maryland. 17 November 2021.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox in the United States.
- Department of Health of Maryland. Travel-Associated Monkeypox virus infection confirmed in Maryland resident.
- WHO health topics page on monkeypox. Updated July 2021.
- WHO factsheet on monkeypox, 9 December 2019.
- WHO monkeypox outbreak tool kit.
A NOTE FROM POYNTER TEACHING
Strike a better balance on the job
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This online seminar takes place July 7, July 14-16 and July 22-23, and is led by The Dallas Morning News’ Tom Huang. Reporters and editors, as well as copywriters, creatives and freelance journalists should apply by June 17.
Demand for food bank help is at a pandemic high
Food banks around the U.S. and Canada say demand is as high now as it was at the height of the pandemic, when many people were out of work and grocery stores suffered shortages of essentials. Now, the pressure comes from rising food prices.
Ginette Bott, who heads up the Utah Food Bank, told the Deseret News inflation, high housing costs and high fuel prices are some of the reasons families are still struggling. She said demand is running at about twice the level it was before the pandemic.
The food bank itself is having challenges buying fuel for its trucks and finding enough help to keep supplies moving to the 200 or so food pantries it supplies around the state.
Families looking for baby formula aren’t having any more luck with the food bank than they are with grocery stores.
“Just because we’re a food bank doesn’t mean we can get the things the store doesn’t have,” Bott said.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the food at home price index rose by 10% over the prior 12 months, the largest increase since March 1981.
Making matters worse, many states are ending the emergency benefits put in place during the pandemic. This rapid increase in grocery prices is driving many food-insecure families to turn to food banks.
Food banks are also concerned about whether higher food costs will affect donations. CNN reports:
About 65% of the 200 food banks in the Feeding America network reported seeing a greater demand for food assistance in March compared with the previous month, with an average increase of 15% more people, according to the latest data from the nation’s largest hunger relief organization. About 30% of food banks said they had served the same number of clients.
The share of food banks experiencing increased demand has more than doubled since December.
Feeding America also raised concerns about how marginalized families will afford food this summer, when school breakfasts and lunches end:
The cost of food eaten at home jumped 10% over the year ending in March, according to the latest federal data. Meat soared 14.8%, while milk increased 13.3%. Eggs rose 11.2%, while fresh fruits became 10.1% more expensive. Rice rose 8.6% and bread cost 7.1% more.
Food banks are buying nearly as much food as they did in 2021 but are paying 40% more for the purchases, according to Feeding America, which has more than 60,000 food pantries, meal programs and partner agencies in its network.
However, the organization is projecting it will suffer a 20% decrease in donations from food manufacturers and a 45% drop in food provided by the federal government in fiscal year 2022, which runs through June.
“We are in danger of running out of food,” said Vince Hall, Feeding America’s chief government relations officer. “We are doing everything we can to avert a major hunger crisis.”
One-third of Americans believe the pandemic is over, even if it isn’t
- Nearly one in three (31%) say that the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
- Large partisan differences exist, with 59% of Republicans, 27% of independents, and just 10% of Democrats saying the pandemic is over.
- Those that are unvaccinated are more likely to say the pandemic is over (55%) than those that are vaccinated (22%).
- The bulk (71%) of Americans describe the pandemic as a problem, but manageable, versus 14% that say it is a serious crisis.
Most people said that despite a significant increase in new cases and hospitalizations in some parts of the country, they have not changed their daily activities such as shopping, going to restaurants or visiting with friends and family. And this might interest journalists:
Roughly six in 10 support local news broadcasts reporting daily on COVID-19 rates in their area (62%)
Expect food prices to go higher, maybe much higher
Bloomberg is looking at how food prices will inevitably rise this summer. The assurance is rooted in the fact that producer prices are rising faster than consumer prices. In other words, the price that restaurants pay for food is rising faster than they can raise prices on their menus. The businesses cannot keep absorbing the increases without eventually passing them along. Bloomberg’s story says:
Price changes for foods included in the CPI basket lag behind the PPI by a month or two, so recent increases for producers “will probably translate into sizable hikes in the prices that consumers see in the next few months,” Stephen Stanley, chief economist at Amherst Pierpont Securities, said in an email.
And in the meantime, pressures on food production continue to build, signaling that PPI could keep climbing. Farmers are facing a myriad of challenges, including fertilizer shortages, drought and adverse weather, along with a US bird flu outbreak that’s killed almost 10% of the country’s egg-laying hens. Plus, the war in Ukraine and its effect on fertilizer supply and fuel markets only exacerbate the problems.
All those factors will likely lead to reduced crops, livestock feed, meat and other food supplies — and contribute to more price gains.
Employers are beginning to say ‘no degree, no problem’
MarketWatch reports that employers that used to demand college degrees now are opening their recruiting efforts to people who do not have them. New Harvard research investigates “degree inflation,” which happened decades ago when jobs that once didn’t require college degrees started demanding them. Now, with such a high demand for new hires, employers are dropping their disqualifications for people who do not have degrees.
In an analysis of more than 26 million job postings, we found that the degree gap (the discrepancy between the demand for a college degree in job postings and the employees who are currently in that job who have a college degree) is significant. For example, in 2015, 67% of production supervisor job postings asked for a college degree, while only 16% of employed production supervisors had one. Our analysis indicates that more than 6 million jobs are currently at risk of degree inflation.
Over time, employers defaulted to using college degrees as a proxy for a candidate’s range and depth of skills. That caused degree inflation to spread to more and more middle-skills jobs. That has had negative repercussions on aspiring workers, as well as experienced workers seeking a new position but who lack a degree. More important, our survey indicates that most employers incur substantial, often hidden, costs by inflating degree requirements, while enjoying few of the benefits they were seeking. The results of our survey were consistent across many industries—employers pay more, often significantly more, for college graduates to do jobs also filled by non-degree holders without getting any material improvement in productivity. While a majority of employers pay between 11% and 30% more for college graduates, many employers also report that non-graduates with experience perform nearly or equally well on critical dimensions like time to reach full productivity, time to promotion, level of productivity, or amount of oversight required.
Why haven’t hundreds of thousands of families applied for COVID-19 funeral payments?
A year ago, FEMA announced that families that lost a loved one to COVID-19 could be eligible for up to $9,000 in funeral expenses. In some states, fewer than one-third of the families that might be eligible for reimbursement have applied for the money, while two-thirds of the families applied in other states. Kaiser Health News found:
Comparing FEMA’s data to official covid fatalities through March 15 showed that Washington, D.C., led the nation with applications for 77% of deaths. States clustered in the South had the highest participation rate in the program, with North Carolina approaching applications for two-thirds of deaths. Other states remain well below a 50% participation rate. In Oregon and Washington, fewer than 1 in 3 covid deaths resulted in an application. (Mississippi received $48.4 million, the single-largest award to any state health agency from the grant. So far, the agency has spent $8.2 million.)
FEMA is launching an outreach campaign to promote the program. The agency is focusing on the populous states of California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Texas, and targeting vulnerable populations.
A year into the program, the federal government has paid more than $2 billion to cover funeral costs for people who die of covid. More than 300,000 families have received reimbursement, averaging $6,500. But fewer than half of eligible families have started applications, and FEMA said there is no limit on the funding available at this time.
Many surviving family members have run into challenges or don’t know the money is still available.
FEMA launched a massive call center to manage applications, hiring 4,000 contractors in Denver. Survivors must call to initiate the process, as applications are not accepted online. FEMA received a million calls on the first day, leaving many people waiting on hold.
You can see FEMA’s state-by-state data here. It shows how much is allotted per state and how much has been claimed.
The guidelines were pretty loose. FEMA said:
FEMA may provide COVID-19 Funeral Assistance to you if:
- you are a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified non-citizen.
- the death occurred in the United States, including U.S. territories and the District of Columbia;
- the death was attributed to COVID-19; and
- you are responsible for the eligible funeral expenses incurred on or after January 20, 2020
One of the few disqualifiers for reimbursement is if a funeral was prepaid.
Businesses brace for the Supreme Court’s abortion case ruling
Axios got its hands on a Department of Homeland Security memo warning that activists on all sides of the abortion issue may become violent when the ruling comes out, probably in a month. The unclassified memo warned that judges, court buildings, politicians, clergy and abortion clinics could be targets. Other security experts say the decision could affect the midterm elections to such an extent that election workers could be targeted by protesters. (Read the memo here.)
The DHS said it had moderate confidence in the level of intelligence it has gathered about potential domestic violence extremists — what DHS called DVEs. Here is a key section of the bulletin:
Practice what you preach
I am going to take my own advice to journalist friends and take a week or so away from work. Like you, I never imagined that more than two years later we would still be talking about the pandemic, so I put off taking time away. But I will be back in a week or so and we will keep covering whatever is next. Be healthy and do good journalism.
We’ll be back on May 30 with a new edition of Covering COVID-19. Are you subscribed? Sign up here to get it delivered right to your inbox.